Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wet and wetter

We had steady southerly rain all yesterday, and several leaks developed as the day went on. One above Alice's bed was a surprise - when I climbed up into the roof space to check it out, there was a horizontal crack in a tile, and the leak had been soaking the ceiling tiles until they reached saturation and passed it through. I managed to push the tile around a bit to settle the leak, and put a bucket under it.

The other leak was at a corner of our kitchen skylight. That has been a recurring problem, and was solved yesterday when Heather's nephew Toby showed up - he figured out that there was some crud in between the flashing and the timber frame, causing the water to spill out the side of the flashing. A quick scrape with a car key cleaned it out.

This morning I am about to go back up equipped with a tube of silicone for Alice's tile (temporary fix until the roofing company can get here) and some tools to do a real clean-out on the flashings. I will replace the bucket over Alice's room with another, just in case.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

An Auckland visit

Up at 5.15 for quick piece of toast and a cuppa, then into a taxi at 6am. We picked up Jess 5 minutes later, and were at the airport check-in with plenty of time before our 7am flight. The descent into Auckland was pretty bumpy as we dropped through large cumulus thunderheads, and passing thunderstorms with heavy rain continued all day.

The sessions at AUT were interesting, though we had seen both the "big picture" woffle from the regional manager, and the excellent walk-through of the NG version from Anze Sparovec, the day before. Other presentations were interesting, including a plea from the support manager to give them some slack while they train up more support staff - it's not often a company admits they are not coping too well and they need some time to get improvements in place.

We were the only "WebCT-Blackboard" people there, with all the others running Blackboard Academic Suite - "original" Blackboard. It was amazing to realise what a primitive product these folk have been putting up with, all these years. One session showed a guy's home-grown management console which tried to fill in deficiencies with features such as multi-file uploads, sortable column gradebook, and many others - all features we've had since 2006. Anyway, the NG version will put all their clients on a single platform.

Logan Moss picked us up and drove us to the airport, where we had an hour for a drink and chat before flying home. It was a long day, though, from 5am to 8pm. We used Green Cabs for the other trips, and found them to be terrific - great service, and they use Toyota Prius hybrids. The travel was quiet and smooth, and the bill was lower by about 10-15%. Our driver said other taxi drivers are spending $300 a week on fuel, and he spends $125. The cars have a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain, incorporating large batteries that are charged by the petrol engine directly or by regenerative braking.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

There and back

Jess and I fly to Auckland tomorrow morning (7am flight, 6am taxi) and back in the evening, for a Blackboard Day - we are to see various presentations from the company, and a walk through of the features of their new product. We saw a lot of this today, as they visited our campus for a practice run in front of our review committee and users.

Frankly, they blew it, with a wordy first 40 minutes from the manager putting some people off so badly that they walked out. The reputation of Blackboard as a big ugly American corporate was well and truly driven home - to an audience that can't think of anything worse. That's a real shame, because the demo of the next version was very impressive.

Anyhoo - we get an action replay plus more presentations, tomorrow; with two extremely bumpy flights if the weather map and the forecasts of 100kph westerlies are to be believed. At least we'll catch up with my old buddy Logan Moss, who divides his time between Hamilton and Auckland. He is giving us a ride to our return flight so we can have a chat and a drink before we fly home.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Seven words

Goodbye George Carlin, clever obscene funny guy.

His "Seven words you can never say on Television" will go down in history.

Monday, 23 June 2008

What the internet is doing to our brains

A great article in the latest Atlantic Monthly online - "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", by Nicholas Carr examines the way the internet has changed people's reading patterns. According to Carr, studies show that we now skim and dip, instead of deep immersive reading. I suspect he's right, and I'm glad to find I'm not alone. (And that it's not early-onset Alzheimers.)

Will this alter our collective consciousness? Maybe. He quotes Tufts University psychologist Maryanne Wolf, "We are not only what we read, we are how we read." Hmmm...

This ties in very well with another Atlantic piece that says multitasking is a waste of time. My standard riposte to people - usually women - who boast about their ability to multitask is "Your ability to multitask is what I call an inability to concentrate". But in fact we all multitask today, in ways that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago, before always-on-internet came along.

Personally, I find more to worry about in the way that computer use has ruined my handwriting; I do so little real writing now. But the internet gave us YouTube, to compensate for turning our brains to mush.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

More on cycle safety

The Press this morning has more about cycle safety - but can Christchurch's "me first" driving culture be altered to accommodate bikes? I have a suspicion that if petrol gets more expensive, motorists will feel more picked on, and may behave more aggressively.
The City Council don't seem to put their cleverest people on the cycle safety department, either. The photo above shows a weird mix of tram tracks and cycle lanes in Armagh St. There is a full slideshow about the tracks and central city cycling in general at the Spokes web site.

Here's another excellent site about bike safety - it's adapted from Michael Bluejay's original US site, and it's full of good advice about avoiding crashes. (A shame the page background is porn-site black, it makes pages look tacky, but still...)

Friday, 20 June 2008

Friday news

Good news for some - looks like snow is on the way.

Good news for cyclists in Chicago - the city has actually passed some tough laws to protect them!

Bad news for most road users in Christchurch - we have a plague of cyclists with no lights, often no helmets, and dark clothing, riding to work in the winter morning gloom. I passed one today and said "Get some lights mate, you're nearly invisible" - and he swore at me and gave me the finger.

The other hazard comes from pedestrians in the central city, who walk around corners so that they can't be seen by turning traffic, then start walking across the road - with their backs to the following traffic, and only 20 metres from a controlled crossing! And of course they are dressed in stylish - but invisible - black, from head to toe.

Motorists are also amazingly unwilling to turn on their lights, even in the dark with thick fog. The worst seem to be young people, especially males. My friends and I have discussed this, coming up with explanations such as "They feel it's admitting weakness", but I have a simpler explanation. I suspect this is just adolescent "it's all about me" self-centredness; they can see enough (just), so they must be visible to others, as they drive their silver-grey cars through the gloom.

I nearly moved across lanes right in front of a car the other day; I checked my mirror and thought there was a car about 100m behind me - then suddenly those lights were obscured so I ducked left, just as a black boy-racer car with no lights rumbled past. If he hadn't blocked the other car's lights, I'd have had no idea he was there, and would have ridden straight under his front wheels. Then I suppose I would have been written off as a crazy cyclist who doesn't look where he's going.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Good news

First up; Heather's sister Elaine has had an operation for a tear in the macula (involving needles in the eyeball and gas behind the retina, and that's all I have to say about it) and is thrilled that it seems to have gone perfectly. She comes home tomorrow and has to keep her eyes pointed down for a week to ten days, which will be a challenge. Still, if it hadn't gone well, she might have been blind in that eye - so we're happy.

Much cultural silliness this week; rocks (flawed but with "spiritual significance") fly business class, and saying "Wassup" will stop young Maori dropping out of school.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

One view, two view...

Freeview! I've been close to buying a Freeview box and an HD-DVD recorder, planning to buy a new TV in another year or so. Until then we would be receiving HD but not recording it or viewing it. But at $400 each for the two boxes, and knowing that we really will need a new telly as well, I figure we might as well wait for the TVs with Freeview decoders built in. We'll have to pay $1000 or more I guess, but they might be giving away the recorders by then, if this retail downturn continues.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Political advertising

I have to admit, the Americans have better campaign adverts than we do in New Zealand - like this one, "I'm voting Republican". Their libel laws seem to be a lot looser than ours. I wonder if they have an Electoral Finance Act? I doubt it.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Oy'll give youse "crisis"

Why is the price of oil high? The reason is clear; I heard a young lady from Caltex declare earnestly that "oil is very volatile" a couple of days ago.

In the meantime, greater minds than mine have been devoted to the resource crises of modern life. Here's Spike Milligan on electricity, and Talking Heads on a post-oil future.

This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
(Full lyrics here.)

Jim Kunstler would be proud.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A colourless existence

It sounds a bit sad, but the colour has gone out of our life - well, out of our printing anyway. The old Deskjet was printing half pages, regardless of what I did (tinkered with settings, reinstalled drivers, etc) so it's been replaced. We now have a Brother HL-2140 black and white laser printer, for the amazing price of $169 - that would have only bought a printer drum a few years ago!
The little Brother is great - it takes up a bit less desk space than the Deskjet did, and produces high quality 600dpi printing. If I need to print colour, I can print files at work, so it's not a big deal.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Weekend again

A short but busy week, with much Moodling at work. We are running training seminars on various aspects, for the teaching staff who will be using the system in the semester 2 trial. Jess and Antoine did sessions on assignments and multimedia yesterday, and I do testing on Monday. We also farewelled Alan Causer, who has been in IT at Canterbury since 1969. Alan began by writing assembly code for mainframes of the day such as PDP-11s, and ended as the person who scripted all the new-user setups and was in charge of all the student workroom systems. That's quite a career span!

Good news for Alice - she has an interview on Tuesday for a data analyst job with the District Health Board. It looks like they are assembling a team for a big contract; they also advertised for a data warehouse manager and senior analysts, so getting in as the junior would be terrific experience.

I'm off to Lyttelton before the big southerly gets here, to pack the boat away for the winter.

LATER - got the boom and main packed away inside the boat, then checked and reorganised the cover and the ventilation. All is happy, though I had a worry after I tossed the boom topping lift away, assuming it would be hanging where I left it. Not so - when I looked up, the strong NW wind had whipped it away and wrapped it around the Tasman 20 in the next park. Five minutes with a boathook sorted that out, luckily.

Monday, 2 June 2008

There and back

We returned from Dunedin in grey skies, which turned to drizzle from Timaru. We encountered the world's worst food at a cafe in Ashburton, and were back in Christchurch by 2, with a boot full of Oamaru vegetables.

I hope Jim enjoyed our visit; we had a nice time, though the entertainment options are limited when all your mobility options are restricted. Still, the weekend before he'd been unconfident about getting into a car, and this weekend he was managing to get from the wheelchair into the car and vice versa, so he's recovering from the hip operation very well - given the complicating factor of advanced PD. In my rush to get going on Saturday I forgot to take the camera, so sorry - no photos.